Winter holidays and waiting for spring on the balcony garden

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I wish you all a happy holiday and a happy new year.

The blog will be on a low burn until early spring as I decided not to any winter gardening this season. But I will be back in early spring with soil, seedlings, garden planning, recipes and all those good things.

The garden waiting for spring.
The garden waiting for spring.
Garden waiting for spring.
Garden waiting for spring.

When I look at my balcony garden right now I see empty containers stacked at one end. All they contain is soil and the promise of next year. I am already thinking abut what I want to do next year and sometime in February/March the balcony garden will slowly start to take form inside with the planting of seeds and watching seedlings grow.

There will be some changes next year based on the successes and failures of this season. Because of my limited space I have to be tough when it comes to what to grow. Next season will be about trying new sorts and a whole lot of tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite crop and I have already gotten a whole batch of new sorts with beef, cherries and tomatoes in all colors. The most difficult thing will be choosing what to grow. I participated in a huge seedswap through the garden club; The Vertical Veg club and I am so exited to try some of the seeds I swapped for. Check out http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/ if you want to be part of the club or just want inspiration on urban gardening.

I leave you with proof of the warmest year in history here in Denmark which means flowering forest strawberries in December.

Forest strawberries flowering i December.
Forest strawberries flowering i December.
Forest strawberries almost ripe in December.
Forest strawberries almost ripe in December.

A happy and productive new year to you all – Sara

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Final harvest update 2014: Mid August to mid October

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It is getting well into autumn and the summer season is well over for most os us gardeners. There is still a little to be found in gardens at this time and if you are a winter gardener, you will be harvesting through winter as well. I don’t have any plans for winter gardening this winter except for the herbs I have brought inside to shield them from the winter frost and to use during the dark months here in Denmark. The sun comes up at 7.50 and it gets dark around 16.30 and the day has shortened by 9 hours. The day will get even shorter with just 7 hours of daylight at winter solstice.

I had a pretty decent harvest with most things this year. For some reason my tomatoes only did alright and not great or maybe we just ate them to quickly and it just seemed like that. This is what my 7m2 balcony garden has yielded from mid August to mid October.

August

August was a lot of tomatoes, herbs, spinach, peppers and apples. I used a lot of time this season to nuture my small apple tree. I gave it a bigger pot in spring, played bee with a small brush to spread the pollen around, removed 2/3 of the apples that came as the tree can’t support that many apples. In the end I got about 50 apples or more from my 2 meter tall tree so a great success. I will be repeating the success next year to get a good yield of apples.

Spinach and herbs
Spinach and Herbs
Apples from my small apple tree.
Apples from my small apple tree – a good harvest.
Tomatoes, herbs and salad.
Tomatoes, herbs and salad.
Tomatoes, peppers, salad and spinach.
Tomatoes, peppers, salad and spinach.
Spinach, tomatoes, pepper, salad and apples.
A harvest of spinach, tomatoes, pepper, salad and apples.

September

September was about harvesting the green tomatoes for ripening inside, harvesting spinach for the freezer and enjoying what is rapidly becoming the last produce and harvest of the season.

Tomatoes, peppers, salad, spinach and herbs.
Tomatoes, peppers, salad, spinach and herbs.
Tomatoes.peppers, salad, beetroot leaves, apples, spinach and oregano.
Tomatoes, peppers, salad, beetroot leaves, apples, spinach and oregano.

On the 23 of September I went through my tomatoes and picked almost all of them as the frost was peaking its head through. Ironically that was the only frost we would see for a while and now in November we are having one of the warmest Novembers in a long long time. I used apples and bowls in the sun to ripen my tomatoes. I have heard that only tomatoes just on the verge of going red can be ripened inside. I have found that to be false. All the tomatoes on the table ripened fine with the use of apples and bowls in the sun. The apples give of a gas that ripens the tomatoes, you can use organic bananas as well. So remember to harvest your green tomatoes as well both for ripening and for pickling.

Lots and lots of tomatoes.
Lots and lots of tomatoes – harvest of the green tomatoes.
The tomatoes look so beautiful in their different colors-
The tomatoes look so beautiful in their different colors-
The tomatoes put in bowls make you realize just how many there are.
The tomatoes put in bowls make you realize just how many there are.

My New Zealand spinach got really big this year as it does every year. I always seem to forget just how big and this year was no different. I brought it inside to harvest the leaves, seeds and stems to use at later date for cooking broth. I only harvested half in this go but I got 7 bags for the freezer.

The New Zealand spinach before the big harvest.
The New Zealand spinach before the big harvest.
Harvested about half of the spinach.
Harvested about half of the spinach.
7 bags of spinach for the freezer and stems for cooking broth.
7 bags of spinach for the freezer and stems for cooking broth.

October

October has been about getting the last of the produce out of the ground and of the plants before getting the garden ready for winter. That means saving the last of the salad seeds, getting the beetroots and carrots out of the ground and picking the very last tomatoes as I chopped down the plants into small pieces and put them in bags.

Salad seed pots for drying.
Salad seed pots for drying.

As the weather stayed mild it turned out that there was a lot more tomatoes on the plants, than I though. Yummy as you can’t harvest enough tomatoes-

The very last tomatoes on the plants.
The very last tomatoes on the plants.
The rest of the green tomatoes.
The very last of the green tomato harvest.

The beetroots gave a really good yield this season. At the start of the season I transplanted the seedlings that stood to close to spaces where there were none and I wasn’t sure it would work. It worked really well and I had harvested some of the big ones during the season. The end yield was still more than 800 grams. I decided to harvest some of the leaves for the freezer as well as they are taste and good for you.

The rest of the beetroots.
The rest of the beetroots.
Just over 800 grams of beetroots.
Just over 800 grams of beetroots.
Beetroot leaves for the freezer.
Beetroot leaves for the freezer.
About 200 grams of beetroot leaves.
About 200 grams of beetroot leaves.

The carrots did better than expected though they generally don’t get that long and the peppers were a surprise. I did not expect them to yield so well. I did find that you have to start picking your peppers as early as you can. The plant can only support a certain number of fruits, so if you want it to keep flowering and setting more fruit, you have to pick the peppers.

A god yield of carrots.
A god harvest of carrots.
The rest of the pepper harvest.
The rest of the pepper harvest.

Happy growing – Sara

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What didn’t work this season in my balcony garden

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Usually there are always a couple of things that go wrong in any season when growing. It is the things you learn from. You find out if crops are right for your conditions, if the sort is one you are happy with and lots of experiences won through trial and error. I had a couple of things that didn’t work out for various reasons.

Mildew in my chamomile

My chamomile were growing fine, lots of beautiful white flowers. I was looking forward to saving a lot of flower heads for tea during the winter. But alas one day I notices a white powdery substance towards the bottom half of the plant. Mildew has come to visit and I tried a mixture of baking soda, alchohol and water to rid my self of this visitor. I don’t use chemicals in my garden, so I will try most “natural” remedies. Unfortunately it didn’t work and my chamomile got cut down to prevent spread. That is the way of growing things and not using chemicals, sometimes you loose.

Chamomile with mildew
Chamomile with mildew in my garden.

New sort of bean – Bon Bon

For the last couple of years I have had an ordinary green bean, the kind where you just buy the seeds in the supermarked. It was really good and it even flowered twice every season, so it gave me a really good amount of beans for the space. Unfortunately I didn’t save any seeds as I ate or saved most of the beans. So this year I had to find a new sort and I chose: Bon Bon – Phaseolus vulgaris. It was supposed to be a great variant, easy to grow and high yielding, but alas me and the Bon Bon did not get on well. I seeded the beans inside and that was a mistake as it did not adapt well to going outside. So that is one lesson learned – don’t seed my beans inside and then mowe them out. Sow beans directly in the permanent growing space. It did give me some beans despite the scrawnyness but they were not to my liking. So I will be on the lookout for a new sort of bean for next season.

The Bon Bon bean.
The Bon Bon bean in my garden.

My love affair with forest strawberries got flooded

I have had some really good experiences with forest strawberries in window boxes. The are high yieldig, sweet and the are producing even now inlate October. Last year was my first season growing them and the plants wintered well. I even planted another window bo with even more strawberries. But there was one thing I had not considered. I was using a selfwatering window box and I thought that was great. But what I had not considered was that when the plants stay in the box for more than one season the roots get big and might clog the overflow drain in the window box. That is exactly what happened and my entire box of lovely forest strawberries drowned. Not a pretty sight. I am not sure what I will do with the other box of strawberries as it might do the same next season. I might try to turn out the plants and cut the roots but I don’t know if that will work or maybe I just have to be really observant next season, so they don’t flood.

The drowned strawberries look sad in the garden.
The drowned strawberries look sad in the garden.

Onions, onions, onions…

I like growing onions and this year I had planned quite a lot of onions; large Mamut onions, red onions, spring onions, ramsoms, chives and Chinese chives – all in the onion family. But apparently me and onions don’t get on well. For some reason none of my Mamuts came, I planted Chinese chives twice without succes, only one red onion came and is now the size of a thumb, the ramsoms didn’t come and the chives are a sad bunch. The only onion that was just a little succesful this season was spring onions and mostly those I have replanted. You can replant the bottom of the spring onions you buy and it will grow again. So I am debating wheter to have onions next year, last season was a decent onion year; so I have not decided yet.

The sad onions in the garden.
The sad onions in the garden.

The curse of growing zuchinies in a pot

I have tried for 3 seasons to succesfully grow zuchinnies in a pot. They need quite a big pot and they have gotten the biggest pot I have. I have even tried 3 different sorts; an ordinary green squash, a yellow stribed zuchinni and this season an 8-ball zuchinni. It has not been a succes. There has been a lot of flowers and even though the flowers are a delicasy, I have not found a way to use them in my cooking. Only 2 fruits over the entire season and the dreaded mildew had another victim. The mildew came early in the season and I kept it at bay with the mixture of baking soda, alchohol and water, but eventually I gave up. So in the future you will not find the zuchinni in my balcony garden. It is to much work for to small a reward and it takes up a lot of my very limited space.

Another mildew victim in the garden.
Another mildew victim in the garden.

The only flower in my otherwise edible garden

I had gotten some Cosmos bipinnatus seeds with a magzine and though I would try having flowers in my garden. I usually only grow things that you can eat but I thought I would try. I came fine but when July came and went it still had not flowered. It was almost 2 meters high and no flowers in sight.

No flowers...
No flowers…

I though I would leave it be and see what happens and in middle of September it suddently began to flower. The lilac flowers were very pretty and I enjoyed them.

Liliac flower lighting up the garden.
Liliac flower lighting up the garden.

A week after the picture above was taken it started to storm and the 2 meter high plant was getting knocked around pretty bad. After having picked it up 4-5 times I thought I would bring it inside. It was windy and it was also getting cold and I wanted to see all the buds flower as I had waited 2 months for it to flower. It looked good for about a week or so and the I noticed that it had gotten spider mites. Within days it was completely covered in spider mites and I had to use a couple of hours cleaning everything with alchohol to get rid of the mites. So the flower were beautiful but I am strongly considering sticking to edibles from now on.

Spider mites everywhere.
Spider mites everywhere.
Even more spider mites.
Even more spider mites.

This is what went wrong for me this season. What went wrong for you this season? Please share and leave a comment…:)

Happy growing – Sara

 

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Saving your favorite seeds for the next season

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The summer is turning into autumn and soon the days will get darker and darker and we will miss the sun. The plants are getting ready for the winter and starting to seed. This is the time to start planning for next year and that means taking stock of the season and finding out what seeds to save for next year.

I want to save some of this season’s successes and hopefully repeat them next year.

Tomatoes

One of the winners this year was my “chocolate berry” cherry tomato and “brown berry” cherry tomato.

A mix of "brown berry" and "chocolate berry" - they look very alike. So I had to be carefull when taking the seeds to get the right one.
A mix of “brown berry” and “chocolate berry” – they look very alike. So I had to be careful when taking the seeds to get the right one.

They are just delicious and so full of flavor. They grow well and produce a really good amount of tomatoes. There is a little work involved in saving tomato seeds as they have a protective coating or skin around them when you take them from the tomato. I have found that the easiest way to get rid of the skin is to put them in my mouth and use my teeth. I used to this a lot as a kid just for fun. Who would have thought that would come in handy. You can save them with the skin; I have not found it makes a difference but they don’t stick together if much if you remove the skin.

Chocolate berry seeds.
Chocolate berry seeds.

Peppers

Another winner this year is my red peppers. I had 2 different sorts; “sweet banana” and “Alma paprika”. My favorite is the “sweet banana” as it does indeed have a great sweet flavor. They have both yielded well and the “Alma paprika” is still flowering and setting fruits well into September.

The long one is "sweet banana# and the other "Alma paprika".
The long one is “sweet banana# and the other “Alma paprika”.

It is very easy to save the seeds from the peppers. You just set the inside of the pepper aside to dry. When dry you just pick of the seeds and save them.

"Sweet banana" seeds.
“Sweet banana” seeds.

The seeds have a lovely color and from just a couple of fruits you can get enough seeds to last you years. Not all seeds can be saved for years but I have not had any trouble with peppers or tomatoes. If you experience that your seeds won’t grow maybe it is time to save some new ones.

"Sweet banana" seeds.
“Sweet banana” seeds.

New Zealand spinach (NZ spinach)

NZ spinach.
NZ spinach.

This is one of my all time favorites. It has small but very meaty leaves and a great taste. I have had normal spinach as well but have chosen to only keep the NZ spinach. If you compare it to normal spinach:

  1. Normal spinach has some lovely leaves early on, but when the leaves grow bigger they can become bitter. NZ spinach grows small leaves all season and never becomes bitter.
  2. If you want a steady supply of normal spinach you have to keep planting. The NZ spinach just keeps growing and gives you more leaves without having to plant any more.
  3. I have had a lot of trouble with pests in normal spinach; especially black aphids that just cover almost all of the plant. I have so far (3 seasons) not had any pests in my NZ spinach.

My NZ spinach seeds so much I have a supply for years.

NZ spinach seeds. They look very funny.
NZ spinach seeds. They look very funny.

Just dry them and you will a good supply for the coming seasons. A funny fact about the seeds is that you will get 3-4 plants from one seed.

NZ spinach seeds.
Dry NZ spinach seeds.

 Salad

I planted a variety of spicy and Asian salads this year and I have let some of them go to seed.

Salad gone to seed.
Salad gone to seed.

They look lovely and the honey bees are still buzzing to get the last of the pollen. The salad sets seedpods which are the ones you dry.

Salad seed pods.
Salad seed pods.

When they are dry you take them out of the pods and save them for next year. I just bunch them all together so I will get a variety of different salads. Remember to only choose seeds from plants that have the qualities you like.

Dry salad seed pods.
Dry salad seed pods.
Salad seeds and pods for discarding.
Salad seeds and pods for discarding.

Herbs

I like to save some seeds from my herbs; especially the annual herbs you have to plant each year. Some of the ones I save are; basil, lemon basil, oregano and maybe not technically a herb Stevia. I was very lucky that my Stevia flowered this year so I could save the seeds.

Stevia flowers with seeds.
Stevia flowers with seeds.
Basil flowers and seeds.
Basil flowers and seeds.
Lemon basil flowers and seeds.
Lemon basil flowers and seeds.
Oregano flowers and seeds.
Oregano flowers and seeds.

I dry them and separate the seeds from the plant parts; well sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. I leave the basil seeds in their pods as it is too much work to get them out. It does take a little longer for the seed to sprout because the moisture has to go through the pods first but as long as you know that it is not a problem; at least not for me.

You can save all kinds of seed but you have to check that the plant is not a F1 hybrid. The F1 hybrids do not give on their qualities to their seeds; the F1 hybrids are created to only last one season and then you have to buy it Again. So look for old sorts and heirloom sorts for saving. It will say on the package if it is a F1 hybrid.

Enjoy your seed saving – Sara

 

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From garden to dinner 2014: Pork meatballs with spinach and feta

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Sometimes it doesn’t take much to enhance a meal. This time I harvested a bit of Thyme, Lemon Basil and some spinach from my 3rd floor garden. All of it is going into making pork meatballs with spinach and feta.

Pork meatballs with spinach and feta

Recipe:

  • 500 grams of organic ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Fresh Lemon Basil
  • 1/2 onion
  • About 50 to 100 grams of spinach
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
The lovely ingredients.
The lovely ingredients for meatballs.

Chop the onion, spinach, herbs and feta finely and add to your ground beef in a mixing bowl. Add the egg as well as salt and pepper.

Add all the chopped ingredients.
Add all the chopped ingredients.

Mix well. I always use my hands both to make sure everything is mixed well but also to add a little love.

After mixing well.
After mixing well. Meatballs ready for the pan.

Shape the meatball in the size you want. I like to use a tablespoon; it gives a good size meatball. Make sure they are all roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Cook in a pan with melted butter.

Cook meatballs in melted butter.
Cook meatballs in melted butter.

Cook until done. You can check the meatballs by pressing down on a meatball with a fork. If the liquid is clear they are done, if it is still cloudy they deed a little more time.

Finished meatballs.
Finished meatballs.

All done – serve with any side dish. I made a lovely salad to serve with these lovely meatballs.

Enjoy – Sara

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